Page images
[blocks in formation]

In the long train of her joyous anniversaries, New England has yet beheld no one more illustrious than this. We have assembled to-day, not to proclaim how well our fathers have done, but to inquire how we may enable their sons to do better. We meet, not for the purposes of empty pageant, nor yet of national rejoicing; but to deliberate upon the most successful means for cultivating, to its highest perfection, that invaluable amount of intellect, which Divine Providence has committed to our hands. We have come up here to the city of the Pilgrims, to ask how we may render their children most worthy of their ancestors and most pleasing to their God. We meet to give to each other the right hand of fellowship in carrying forward this allimportant work, and here to leave our professional pledge, that, if the succeeding generation do not act worthily, the guilt shall not rest upon those who are now the Instructers of New England.

Well am I aware that the occasion is worthy of the choicest effort of the highest talent in the land. Sincerely do I wish, that upon such talent the duty of addressing you this day had devolved. Much do I regret that sudden indisposition has deprived me of the time which had been set apart to meet the demands of the present occasion, and that I am only able to offer for your consideration such reflections as have been

snatched from the most contracted leisure, and gleaned amid the hurried hours of languid convalescence. But I bring, as an offering to the cause of Education, a mind deeply penetrated with a conviction of its surpassing importance, and enthusiastically ardent in anticipating the glory of its ultimate results. I know, then, that I may liberally presume upon your candor, while I rise to address those, to very many of whom it were far more besceming that I quietly and humbly listened.

The subject which I have chosen for our mutual improvement, is, The object of intellectual education; and the manner in which that object is to be attained.

I. It hath pleased Almighty God to place us under a constitution of universal law. By this we mean, that nothing, either in the physical, intellectual or moral world, is in any proper sense contingent. Every event is preceded by its regular antecedents, and followed by its regular consequents; and hence is formed that endless chain of cause and effect which binds together the innumerable changes which are taking place everywhere around us.

When we speak of this system as subjected to universal law, we mean all this; but this is not all that we mean. The term law, in a higher sense, is applied to beings endowed with conscience and will, and then there is attached to it the idea of rewards and punishments. It is then used to signify a constitution so arranged, that one course of action shall be inevitably productive of happiness, and another course shall be as inevitably productive of misery. Now, in this higher sense is it strictly and universally true, that we are placed under a constitution of law. Every action which we perform, is as truly amenable as inert matter, to the great principles of the government of the universe, and every action is chained to the consequences which the Creator has aflixed to it, as unalterably as any sequence of cause and effect in physics. And thus, with equal eloquence and truth, the venerable Hooker has said, 'Of Law, here can be no less acknowledged, than that her seat is the

bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the very greatest as not exempted from her power; both angels and men and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.'

Such a constitution having been established by a perfectly wise Creator, it may be easily supposed that it will remain unchangeable. His laws will not be altered, for our convenience. We may obey them or disobey them, we may see them or not see them, we may be wise or unwise, but they will be rigidly and unalterably enforced. Thus must it ever be, until we have the power to resist the strength of omnipotence.

Again; it is sufficiently evident that the very constitution which God has established, is, with infinite wisdom and benevolence, devised for just such a being, physical, intellectual, and moral, as man. By obedience to the laws of God, man may be as happy as his present state will allow. Misery is always the result of a violation of some of the laws which the Creator has established. Hence, our great business here, is, to know and obey the laws of our Creator.

That part of man by which we know, and, in the most important sense, obey the laws of the Creator, is called MIND. I use the word in its general sense, to signify, not merely a substance, not matter, capable of intellection, but one also capable of willing, and to which is attached the responsibility of right and wrong in human action. And, still further, it is one of the laws of mind, that increased power for the acquisition of knowledge, and a more universal disposition to obedience, may be the result of the action of one mind upon another, or, of the welldirected efforts of the individual mind itself.

Without some knowledge of the laws of nature, it is evident that man would immediately perish. But it is possible for him to have only so much knowledge of them as will barely keep generation after generation in existence, without either adding

anything to the stock of intellectual acquisition, or subjecting to his use any of the various agents which a bountiful Providence has everywhere scattered around, for the supply of his wants and the relief of his necessities. Such was the case with the Aborigines of our country, and such had it been for centuries. Such, also, with but very few and insignificant exceptions, is the case in Mohammedan and Pagan countries. The sources of their happiness are few and intermitting—those of their misery multiplied and perpetual.

Looking upon such nations as these, we should involuntarily exclaim, What a waste of being, what a loss of happiness, do we behold! Here are intelligent creatures, placed under a constitution devised by Infinite Wisdom to promote their happiness. The very penalties which they suffer, are so many proofs of the divine goodness--mere monitions to direct them in the paths of obedience. And besides this, they are endowed with a mind perfectly formed to investigate and discover these laws, and to derive its highest pleasure from obeying them. Yet that mind, from want of culture, has become useless. It achieves no conquests. It removes no infelicities. Here, then, must the remedy be applied. This immaterial part must be excited to exertion, and must be trained to obedience. Just so soon as this process is commenced, a nation begins to emerge from the savage, and enter upon the civilized state. Just in proportion to the freedom and the energy with which the powers of the mind are developed, and the philosophical humility with which they are exercised, does a people advance in civilization. Just in proportion as a people is placed under contrary influences, is its movement retrograde.

The science which teaches us how to foster these energies of mind is the science of Education. In few words, I would say, the object of the science of Education, is, to render mind the fittest possible instrument for DISCOVERING, APPLYING, or OBEYING, the luws under which God has placed the universe.

That all this is necessary, in order to carry forward the

human species to the degree of happiness which it is destined, at some time or other, to attain, may be easily shown.

The laws of the universe must be discovered. Until they are discovered, we shall be continually violating them and suffering the penalty, without either possibility of rescue or hope of alleviation. Hence the multitude of bitter woes which ignorance inflicts upon a people. Hence the interest which every man should take in the progress of knowledge. Who can tell how countless are the infelicities which have been banished from the world, by the discovery of the simple law that a magnetized needle, when freely suspended, will point to the north and south !

Nor is it sufficient that a law be discovered. Its relations to other laws must be ascertained, and the means devised by which it may be made to answer the purposes of human want. This is called application, or invention. The law of the expansive power of steam was discovered by the Marquis of Worcester, in 1663. It remained, however, for the inventive power of Watt and Fulton, more than a century afterwards, to render it subservient to the happiness of man.

From want of skill in a single branch of this department of mental labor, the human race has frequently been kept back for ages. The ancients, for instance, came very near the invention of the printing press. Thus has it been with several other of the most important inventions. It makes a thoughtful man sad, at the present day, to observe how many of the most important agents of nature we are obliged to expose to the gaze of lecture-rooms, without being able to reveal a single practical purpose for which they were created.

But this is not all. A man may know a law of his Creator, and understand its application ; but if he do not obey it, he will neither reap the reward nor escape the penalty which the Creator has annexed to it. Ilere we enter, at once, into the mysterious region of human will, of motive and of conscience. To examine it at present is not my design. I will only remark, that some great improvement is necessary in this part

« PreviousContinue »